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Why I Am a Secular Humanist

Why I Am a Secular Humanist

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En ingles. Views of members of the International Academy of Humanism: Sir Isaiah Berlin, Yelena Bonner, Hermann Bondi, Taslima Nasrin, Richard Dawkins, Richard Taylor, John Passmorre, Arthur C. Clarke, Anthony Flew, J.J.C. Smart and Inumati Parikh.
En ingles. Views of members of the International Academy of Humanism: Sir Isaiah Berlin, Yelena Bonner, Hermann Bondi, Taslima Nasrin, Richard Dawkins, Richard Taylor, John Passmorre, Arthur C. Clarke, Anthony Flew, J.J.C. Smart and Inumati Parikh.

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Published by: Libertad e Igualdad on Jan 13, 2009
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11/03/2011

 
Free Inquiry, Wntr 1997 v18 n1 p18(5)Why I am a secular humanist. (views of members of the International Academy ofHumanism)(includes related article on secular humanist Sir Isaiah Berlin) Yelena Bonner; HermannBondi; Taslima Nasrin; Richard Dawkins; Richard Taylor; John Passmorre; Arthur C. Clarke;Anthony Flew; J.J.C. Smart; Inumati Parikh.Abstract: Several members of the International Academy of Humanism presented their views onbeing secular humanists. Some of them believed that their professions, family backgrounds andideals positively contribute to the values embodied by humanism. They felt that their viewscorrelate well with issues of faith, double standards, and religion. Other members of the academyassociated their commitments, ethical conduct and philosophy with various human life issues andconcerns.The members of the International Academy of Humanism reflect on the guiding principles of theirlivesThe International Academy of Humanism was established in 1985 to recognize distinguishedhumanists and to disseminate humanistic ideals and beliefs.YELENA BONNERA distinguished defender of human rights. Because of her human rights advocacy in the formerUSSR, she was persecuted by the state, as was her late husband, Andrei Sahkarov, the famousSoviet dissident and Nobel Peace Laureate.I was born in 1923 and grew up in a time when the word humanism and all concepts thataccompanied it were scorned and rejected as bourgeois vocabulary. A common phrase stated that"a communist cannot be a humanist." Many years later, in a Soviet encyclopedic dictionary, I read:". . . Karl Marx called communism 'real humanism.' Humanism received practical realization in theachievements of socialism, that pronounced as its principle "All for the sake of man, for the good ofman."It was both ridiculous and sad to read this in Gorky, where my husband, Andrei Sakharov, was keptin isolation from the entire world by the whim and arbitrariness of the authorities, and where I wassentenced to exile four years later.My perception of good and evil were shaped and nurtured by my family, friends, and colleagues. Iwas 14 years old when my parents were arrested. My father was shot, and my mother was takenaway from me and my younger brother for eight years of labor camps and another nine years ofinternal exile, until the time when the so-called violations of socialist legality were condemned in mycountry and my parents were exonerated, my father posthumously. Such was communist"humanism."My family's tragedy did not make me bitter, and I have never held it against my country, never feltmy country was culpable. Rather, it was perceived as an act of god, especiallysince the case of myfamily was not unique. The same fate had befallen many of my peers -friends and schoolmates. Allof us were "strange orphans of 1937," to use the expression coined by the writer Ilya Ehrenburg. In
 
reality "strange orphans" in our society existed since 1917, as well as much later than 1937.There is no doubt that my family's misfortune left a mark on my psyche, but to all that was evil therewas a counterweight in the great Russian literature, and particularly, in poetry, which wasfortunately close to my heart from early childhood. Then came World War II with its blood andsuffering, with terrible injustice of young lives cruelly cut short -lives of strangers and the most dearones alike. There was fear. Survival seemed a miracle. A poet's line fully applies to me: "I put thewar past me, but it passed through me."After the war I betrayed my first choice of vocation (I had volunteered to the front after my freshmanyear of study in Russian language and literature) and entered medical school. I wanted to do goodnot by word but deed, by everyday work. I have never regretted having become a physician. Eventoday I relive the sensation of happiness that accompanies the first cry of a newborn in the deliveryroom; or when entering the ward I would hear two or three dozen babies crying in unison, forfeeding time was near. I often found myself smiling as I walked toward their cries. A crying baby isan alive baby.It was in the family with its misfortunes and joys, in friends and books, in professional life, in theconcerns of a woman and a mother that I developed my own perception of the world and of myplace in it, my ideals. In essence, they are probably close to the values of humanism.Translated by Taliana YakelerichEDWARD O. WILSONEmeritus Professor of Entomology at Harvard University and author of numerous widely acclaimedbooks including Sociobiology.I was raised a Southern Baptist in a religious environment that favored a literal interpretation of theBible. But it happened that I also became fascinated by natural history at an early age, and, as abiology concentrator at the Universityof Alabama, discovered evolution. All that I had learned of theliving world to that point fell into place in a wholly new and intellectually compelling way. It wasapparent to me that life is connected not by supernatural design but by kinship, with species havingmultiplied out of other species to create, over hundreds of millions of years, the great panoply ofbiodiversity around us today. If a Divine Creator put it all here several thousand years ago, he alsosalted Earth from pole to pole with falsified massive, interlocking evidence to make scientistsbelieve life evolved autonomously. I realized that something was terribly wrong in this dissonance.The God depicted in Holy Scripture is variously benevolent, didactic, loving, angry, and vengeful,but never tricky.As time passed, I learned that scientific materialism explains vastly more of the tangible world,physical and biological, in precise and useful detail, than the Iron-Age theology and mysticismbequeathed us by the modern great religions ever dreamed. It offers an epic view of the origin andmeaning of humanityfar greater, and I believe more noble, than conceived byall the prophets of oldcombined. Its discoveries suggest that, like itor not, we are alone. We must measure and judgeourselves, and we will decide our own destiny.Why then, am I a humanist? Let me give the answer in terms of Blaise Pascal's Wager. Theseventeenth-century French philosopher said, in effect, live well but accept religious faith. "If I lost,"he wrote. "I would have lost little: If I won I would have gained eternal life."Given what we nowknowof the real world, I would turn the Wager around as follows: if fear and hope and reason dictate thatyou must accept the faith, do so, but treat this world as if there is none other.SIR HERMANN BONDIFellow of the Royal Society and past Master of Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 
I grew up in Vienna in a nonbelieving Jewish family. But whereas my father liked the forms of theJewish religion as a social cement (and indeed we kept the household such that we could entertainour numerous Orthodox relatives), I acquired from my mother an intense dislike of the narrownessand exclusivity of the religion. Ethical principles were very strong at home. I soon became clear tome that a moral outlook was at least as strong among nonbelievers. I similarly acquired a strongdislike of the alternative religion, the Catholic Church (in Austria dominant and very reactionary). SoI was set early on the path of nonbelief, with strong ethical principles, and soon was ready todeclare my attitude. But it was only later that I joined others with a similar outlook in humanistorganizations.My opinion now is that arguments about the existence or nonexistence of an undefined "God" arequite pointless. What divides us from those who believe in one of the faiths claiming universalvalidity (such as Christianity or Islam) is their firm trust in an alleged revelation. It is this absolutereliance on a sacred text that is the basis of the terrible crimes committed in the name of religion(and of other absolutist faiths such as Nazism or doctrinaire communism). It is also worth pointingout the appalling arrogance of viewing one's own religion as "right" and all others as "wrong." Themultiplicity of mutually contradictory faiths needs pointing out again and again.Thus I regard humanism not as yet another exclusive faith, but as a determination to stress thoseissues on which we are all more or less agreed and to relegate to the backburner faiths that divideus. Thus I am a firm secularist, favoring a society and educational system in which those of anyreligion and of none can feel comfortable as long as they are not aggressive or separatist.TASLIMA NASRINA physician-turned-human-rights-activist and author of the dissident novel Shame. She is exiledfrom her native Bangladesh.I was born in a Muslim family. I was forced by mother to read the Koran every morning, to praynamaz, and to fast during Ramadan.While I was growing up, I was taken by my mother to a pit, a religious cult leader respected byMuslims. He had his own group, who believed in a genie and superstitions. The pit declared thatwomen who laughed in front of men and went out of the house had been taken over by the genieand they were brutally beaten by the pit so that the genie would leave. He gave a scary descriptionof hell. Whoever visited him gave money.The pir was surrounded by young women who massaged his body and served him whatever heneeded. One day, in my presence, he declared that keyamout, the destruction day of the Earth,was coming soon, and that there was no need for women to marry. They should sacrifice their livesfor Allah.I was' horrified to see all the torture he did to get rid of the genie and to listen to the description ofhell and waiting for keyamout. But it did not come.The pir used to treat sick people by uttering sura and beating them. Water was declared holy andsaid to cure sick people. The sick became sicker after drinking the water. I was also treated by a pit,but I was not cured until my physician father treated me with scientific medicine.I was encouraged by my father to get a secular education. I learned about the big bang, evolution,and the solar system and became suspicious about Allah's six-day adventure to make the wholeuniverse, the Adam and Eve story, and stories of suns moving around the Earth and mountains likenails to balance the Earth so that the Earth would not fall down. Mymother asked me not to ask anyquestions about Allah and to have blind faith in Allah. I could not be blind.

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